"All Fall Down" combines the best elements of "Come Back Little Sheba" and "Splendor in the Grass"; which should not be a total surprise given that all three come at least in part from the mind of William Inge. It is interesting that while "All Fall Town" is the most ambitious of the three, it is also the least known. Probably because Director John Frankenheimer made something that is more art film than box office blockbuster (or academy darling).
The storytelling technique is much like "Days of Heaven", both told from the point of view of the youngest member of their casts-in this case Clint (Brandon de Wilde-"come back Shane"). The film even goes so far as to cut in shots of Clint watching the other characters through windows and doorways, and then writing down what he has observed in a journal. This is very effective because the story has coming of age elements involving Clint and the viewer is meant to strongly identify with his character. Unfortunately Frankenheimer pulls his punch at the end and limits things to the traditional process of disillusionment found in this film genre. A much more satisfying ending was possible.
I've never shared the view that "All Fall Down" lacks sympathetic characters. Clint is certainly likable as is family friend Echo (Eva Marie Saint), and even father Ralph (Karl Malden) to a certain degree. Mother Annabell (Angela Lansbury) is not but her purpose is to provide some explanation for this dysfunctional family.
Older brother Berry-Berry (Warren Beatty) is not likable but is certainly interesting. Smothered by his mother he has a phobia about ending up like his parents. Which has sent him on the road where he lives by his wits and good looks. Beatty really doesn't seem to know how to play Berry-Berry and his performance is mostly a repeat of his "Splendor in the Grass" character. But the uncertainty in his performance ultimately works to his advantage, as Berry-Berry is a conflicted mess of mixed motivation. His behavior is compulsive and contradictory, a sociopath with a conscience. And he is concerned with the welfare of his little brother, who idolizes him (as do his parents).
Starting out in Key West, where Clint meets his brother's ex-girlfriend (played by Frankenheimer's real life wife Evans Evans) in a strip club. In a great scene she tries to get the underage Clint to buy her a drink-but her debilitated coughing spoils any superficial sex appeal.
The action soon shifts to an older middle class neighborhood in Cleveland. Beatty appears briefly in the beginning and is mostly unseen until after the midpoint of the film. De Wille has far more screen time and introduces us to the remaining three characters.
Saint's character is a spinsterish free spirit of 31 (another contradiction) who Clint falls in love with until his older brother claims her. Saint was always difficult to cast. Not earthy enough for the Julie Harris-Elizabeth Hartman type of roles and not sexy enough for the standard starlet stuff she was limited to icy librarians or dowdy girlfriend stuff until Hitchcock drew her out in "North by Northwest". She is physically perfect for the Echo O'Brien role, someone confident and playful, yet very fragile; pretty enough to make Berry-Berry's attraction credible.
This is a slick little film but only if you like productions that could easily transfer to the stage.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.